BASOTHO studying or seeking jobs in South Africa are among the top victims of human, drug trafficking and forced labour syndicates specialising in these illegal trades.
South African Special Director of Public Prosecutions in the Asset Forfeiture Unit, Knorx Molelle, told the Lesotho Times that Basotho are always found whenever they raid drug hotspots in the neighbouring country.
Although he did not have the statistics at hand, he said most of the Basotho victims, especially females, are made to travel to South Africa on the promise of getting jobs but are instead introduced to drugs before being turned into sex slaves.
“When the police (South Africa Police Services) conduct raids from time to time, among those who are arrested would be Basotho who would have been promised jobs in South Africa only to be used as drug mules,” Molelle said.
“Drugs go together with sex slavery. So, the ladies, upon arrival in South Africa expecting to find jobs, would instead be fed drugs…. When they are in that ‘high’ state they are then forced into prostitution. Meanwhile, the men would be used as drugs salespersons.
“Unsuspecting children from the age of 14 have been found among victims… Others are brought to South Africa by relatives who would have promised their parents that they will enrol them into schools.”
Mr Molelle said that the sex and drug trade was most common in major cities such as Johannesburg, Cape Town and Durban where there is a huge influx of tourists.
He said the traffickers take time to study their potential victims’ lifestyles before they pounce.
“Bloemfontein is rapidly becoming a new hotspot where Basotho students often fall victim to drug and sex traffickers. Some students are from vulnerable families therefore struggle to make ends meet while others are those that love glamorous lifestyles.
“What these kingpins would do is study their prey’s lifestyles, then lure them with money to join the trade as drug mules. For instance, they would ask one to courier ‘a package’ (drugs) to countries such as Brazil or Thailand and China promising to pay them around M20 000 for the service. The worst thing is that Asian countries are very harsh of drug offences and anyone found guilty may get hanged.”
Mr Molelle said it was difficult to close down the sex and drugs trafficking rackets as they involve complex syndicates in different countries.
“What makes it difficult is that they do not stay in one place. For sex trade, the kingpins are stationed in various cities of different countries and work as a network. In every three months they exchange girls so that their clients can see new girls from time to time. This makes it difficult to track down the trafficked girls.”
He said tracking trafficked girls and women becomes increasingly difficult because the syndicates were connected to home affairs officials from different countries who clandestinely assist them in acquiring identity and travel documents for the victims.
“Another problem is that they have access to home affairs systems of different countries therefore can easily make fake passports which they use to redeploy the girls from one country to another.
“Once they feel the girls are ‘worn out’, they let them go and look for new ones. The problem is that those that return come back with sexually transmitted illnesses like HIV and others would have become drug junkies.”
He said Lesotho and South Africa needed to tighten home affairs systems to combat the trafficking scourge.
“The advantage is that relations between South Africa and Lesotho on social services are very good and the link makes it easier to reconnect those found with their families.
“However, the home affairs departments of the two countries need to tighten travelling systems especially for those who are said to be going to work. The system should make it easier to verify if there is actually a job where someone has been promised one.”
Worldwide human trafficking earns profits of roughly US$150 billion annually for traffickers according to the International Labour Organisation (ILO) report from 2014. The breakdown of profits indicates that US$99 billion is from commercial sexual exploitation while the rest is via forced labour in sectors such as construction manufacturing, mining and agriculture.
While only 19 percent of victims are trafficked for sex, sexual exploitation earns 66 percent of the global profits of human trafficking with the average annual profits generated by each woman in forced sexual slavery estimated at US$100 000 or six times more than the average profits generated by each trafficking victim worldwide for other purposes (US$21 800), according to the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe.
An officer at the Lesotho’s Home Affairs Commission of Refugees, Nthatisi Thabane, said several efforts were being made on the ground to eliminate human trafficking through awareness campaigns.
“It is true that our people are trafficked to South Africa either to be used there or to be transferred to other countries. However, it is not easy to monitor human trafficking transactions because it is difficult to ask everybody who crosses the border what business takes them to South Africa.
“We work closely with Child and Gender Protection Unit (CGPU) departments in both local and South African Police Service in tracking down trafficking syndicates so we can rescue victims. We also have the Cross-Border Crime Prevention forums where we discuss and formulate ideas on how to tackle the human trafficking cases.
“We also try as much as possible to create awareness through campaigns so people can be able to be aware of trafficking signs and to immediately report to either us or the police whenever they have suspicions of trafficking. We often host campaigns in towns near the borders and we also have big billboards at the borders bearing the information about human trafficking signs as well as numbers to call when one is in distress. There are also pamphlets which we hand out at the borders which are aimed at creating awareness about trafficking in persons,” Ms Thabane said.